The winter cloaks me like a cure-all, despite the cramped parking, despite the shadowy figures moving across the street. I’m nervous. I try to tell myself that it’s for better reasons. The ones that make me clench my jaw and wrap my fists around my knees. The subjects in New York Magazine are getting younger, the fissures in my forehead and hips are here to stay. But it’s not that, it’s as far from that as Stubb and Wootten slippers are from my feet. I’m nervous to socialize. Out of the blue came The Photographer, as I alluded to, and out of the wind, she is here.
Technically, I am here first, as I please. A forgotten bible advised showing up to meetings ten minutes early or ten minutes late, anything in between being gauche and powerless. My proverbial tender heel. I soothe them with a fruity drink and a coo to the waitress. All the waitstaff is bedecked in plaid and at a moment’s glance, I can’t tell if she’s arrived or not. When she arrives, she sits with a sigh, and we mince our way through drinks and tacos to the chagrin of my palate. Things are pleasant, it seems. She is partnered to a woman I tangentially knew from an ill-fated kink event and dinner, a clumsy-fisted stab at sexuality, I remember fondly. The Writer is in New Mexico, exercising and anonymously trailing off in phone calls. They’re not together anymore. It’s not mine to document, though, so I let her speak and dribble hot sauce atop corn chips.
From what she tells me, the scene feels cramped, like a burlap sack in the river and I find myself looking for ways to elbow my way out. So and so is sleeping with this one from school and knows all the people of the area and the region, even bleeding down into the next state like some toxic revolutionary. Everyone goes to the same places. I resolve to spend the evening staring at their FetLives, envying and turning my nose at their flagging. But it doesn’t bring the warmth of resolute misanthropy I so used to covet, instead, it blurs my face, it makes me want to move to Los Angeles and run, run away on my own two feet. We order another round of tacos and I lick sesame oil off my fingerprints, I make blasé sexual jokes. And, we’re back.
All good nights have to end, and this one leads us back outside. There’s a chill in the air, and I suck in warmth from my Gauloises. They are preserved as if ambered, carried in the bag of a speechless boy who tells me, after he gives me the carton in his drunken haze, to do good things and never, ever choose between my life and my morals before he got on a train to Tennessee. My mouth is sealed. I may have made the decision in my footsteps. But before we depart, I share one with The Photographer and we bisect at the intersection. The cigarette passes between the tips of our fingers, and she fades into the dark. There’s no ticket on my car and no song in my heart, just the empty scent of smoke when I get back to home.